The Chicago Syndicate: Bloom is Off Whitey's Rose

Montana West World

Montana West World

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Bloom is Off Whitey's Rose

Friends of ours: James "Whitey" Bulger, Kevin Weeks, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi

Probably no one should be surprised that federal authorities would mark the anniversary of Whitey Bulger's disappearance in such a low-key fashion last week. There were no press conferences, no dramatic announcements or updates, just a three-paragraph release assuring the world that the FBI and other agencies remain on the case.

Bulger's former criminal protege, Kevin Weeks, theorized to the Globe's Shelley Murphy that Boston's most legendary mobster has been marooned in Europe since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which is probably as valid a theory as we're likely to hear. Weeks, after all, was the mobster's surrogate son.

There's something anticlimactic about these anniversaries, these nonupdates to one of the most dramatic tales in the city's recent history. If there's one thing James J. Bulger never was in his presence, it was monotonous. Yet that is exactly what he has become in his extended absence.

One thing has changed in his decade-plus on the lam: His cult of personality, the blood-soaked romance of his exploits, has utterly collapsed. Few kid themselves anymore that Bulger kept the drugs out of South Boston, or kept its streets safe with his unique brand of do-it-yourself justice. As that image has receded, as the keepers of the flame have faded away and 19 murder indictments are what's left of his legacy, Bulger has come to be seen for what he really is. If he's returned to Boston, it'll be as a serial killer - that's if there's a return at all, which has to be considered less likely than it was a decade ago.

Meanwhile, his exile has taken police on a wild ride from California to Chicago to Uruguay to New Zealand.

I've always been amused by the story of his brief, early-exile stay in Louisiana, where he befriended his neighbors and bought one couple a washing machine before his instincts told him it was time to move on. Just think: For him the ultimate disguise was as a nice guy.

As some predicted at the time of his last vanishing act, Bulger's everyman appearance has proved to be a nightmare for investigators. He has been sighted everywhere, and nowhere. On nearly every continent someone has thought they may have seen him, one dead end after another.

Coincidentally or not, his time in flight has been difficult for many of those close to him. His equally famous brother, William M. Bulger, has left politics and been driven from the presidency of the University of Massachusetts. Another brother, Jackie, is embroiled in a long fight to have his $65,000-a-year state pension restored after his convictions for perjury and obstruction of justice. Former FBI agent John Connolly is serving time on a racketeering conviction, and has been indicted for murder. Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi is serving a life sentence and cooperating with the authorities. Weeks, who served five years in prison, is writing a book. When Whitey Bulger went down, a lot of people went with him.

Pity the poor investigators, chasing a man who has been hiding from the police for decades. If there is anyone who knows where and how to hide, it's him.

But that sympathy has to pale next to the suffering of the survivors of his many alleged victims. For them, anniversary is probably too cheery a word to describe these annual reminders of law enforcement futility.

Catching Whitey still matters, of course. Now that the world knows how he manipulated the FBI to facilitate his felonious career, and how thoroughly certain officials sold out their public trust on his behalf, we need the public accounting that only a trial can bring. And there's the more personal accounting, too. His victims -- the survivors of his victims are, themselves, victims -- deserve the day they can face him in court.

Not much is left in Boston of the mob culture that made Whitey Bulger possible. The whole notion has become an anachronism. One of the few remaining pieces is the search for Bulger. His capture will be its epilogue, and it can't come soon enough

Thanks to
Adrian Walker

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